FROM GREENHOUSES TO SHOPS
The main mission of Turkmenistan’s agro-industrial complex at the current stage is to ensure the country’s food security, output of import-substituting and export-oriented products and application of innovative technologies.
To successfully address these issues Turkmenistan has ensured the high pace of work in the agriculture to increase the number of greenhouse farms equipped with modern technologies. Now the total area of such greenhouses amounts to 455 hectares. Construction of new greenhouses is under way on two thousand additional hectares. Cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, strawberries, bananas and flowers are grown in the existing greenhouses. However, more than 90 percent of the greenhouse area accounts for tomato crops. Such preference of Turkmen entrepreneurs to growing tomatoes is far from coincidental.
It is tomatoes that have become the main export commodity of Turkmen agrarians. In 2019, members of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan (UIET) earned a total of 39 million US dollars from exports of agricultural products (vegetables, fruits, honey, eggs, etc.). However, tomatoes alone accounted for about half of the total exports.
At the same time, exports of agricultural products grown by private entrepreneurs double every year. For example, exports of agricultural products amounted to 20 million US dollars in 2018. Exports were expected to reach 100 million US dollars in 2020, but the actual exports appeared to be less than expected due to the global pandemic and quarantine measures.
In Turkmenistan, most of the agricultural products are grown by farmer associations and private entrepreneurs – members of the UIET. In 2020, according to preliminary estimates, they produced about 30 thousand tons of tomatoes, which is much more than a year ago. Of these, up to 23.5 thousand tons were exported.
Many farms have started growing tomatoes all year round in greenhouses, using modern high-tech equipment and innovative methods of plant care. By developing new irrigated fields, expanding the area for greenhouses and additional crops, private entrepreneurs not only completely meet the domestic market demand but also increase exports. Turkmen agrarians grow various high-yielding tomato varieties that are very popular in the world.
Following the expansion of areas for modern greenhouses, the number of farms exporting agricultural products also increases. If in 2019 there were forty of them, then in 2020 the number of exporters reached eighty. It is important that the state regulations have been adjusted to ensure the saturation of the domestic market by the agricultural products in the first place and export only the surpluses. The entire domestic tomato market is currently fed by locally grown products, although a couple of years ago tomatoes were imported from Turkey and a number of neighboring countries.
The logistic of exports is developing along with the growth of agricultural exports. Other than road transport, rail transport (for large quantities) is also used and sea ferries are rented in the Caspian Sea.
Turkmenistan’s private entrepreneurs actively develop and expand the agribusiness with Russian partners. If 2–3 years ago Turkmen tomatoes were sold only in the Moscow Food City, now the tomato products are already available in many Russian regions. Representatives of the Trading House of Turkmenistan in the Russian Federation note that Turkmen fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes and cucumbers, are very popular with Russian buyers. Therefore, exports to Russia grow, and the range of exported products increases every year.
The geography of exports of Turkmen tomatoes also includes other countries, such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. One of the latest achievements was in 2019, when sales of premium varieties of Turkmen tomatoes started in Dubai. Consumers in the United Arab Emirates highly appreciated the products by Yigit private company under the Makhmal brand. The well-known retail chain Carrefour began to sell them in the Premium Vegetables sections. This French company has more than 15 thousand stores around the world, including the UAE.
In 2020, Yigit signed a seasonal contract for exports of up to 100 tons of tomatoes per month to the UAE. Despite the fact that tomatoes come to the Dubai market from several regions, the Turkmen products proved to be very competitive and very popular. At present, Yigit also exports its products to Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The experience of Berk Binachi private company is also worth mentioning. The greenhouse built by this company in 2017 on the area of 4 hectares is fully automated. Computers control the entire production process, monitor the thermal regime, open and close the thermal curtain to ventilate and maintain the required temperature, supply water and nutrient solutions as needed. Manual labor is required only for treatment of bushes and picking tomatoes by hand.
Taking into account the fact that tomatoes are always in demand in international markets, private entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan have many opportunities to increase exports of tomatoes. Cheap gas, electricity, land, labor, low water consumption for drip irrigation help to save costs of the final product, making it a very competitive export product in the markets of many countries.
New technologies are widely introduced in the country’s greenhouses, including automatic control of plant care, drip irrigation, centralized and linear sprinklers, etc. These measures bear fruit. Water is supplied in the required volumes. There is no soil salinity. Yields of any greenhouse products increase by 30–40 percent and more. With this approach, water consumptions can be saved at least 3 times.
There is another useful innovation. Turkmen farmers began to actively use California bees imported from Europe to pollinate plants in modern greenhouses. They are more efficient than regular bees, helping to almost double the yield. With the development of domestic production of vegetables imports of agricultural products decreases every year. At present, only citrus fruits, bananas and some other exotic fruits are imported.
According to experts, the widespread introduction of intensive vegetable growing in Turkmenistan is very promising. Agroindustry experts believe that the current annual export of vegetable products (40 thousand tons) can be increased tenfold in 3–5 years. Nowadays, Turkmen greenhouse farms that adopted intensive production harvest an average of 200 tons of tomatoes per hectare per year. Thus, intensive vegetable growing with small resources brings good yields.
In the coming years, Turkmenistan plans to increase the scale of intensive farming. If in 2019 tomato areas accounted for 350 hectares and new greenhouses were built on 100 additional hectares in 2020, then by the time of the end of the pandemic it is expected that at least two thousand hectares of land will be allocated for growing tomatoes!
Turkmenistan now accounts for hundreds of private companies specializing in growing agricultural products, and this number will increase many times in few years. Given the plan to privatize the farmland in the coming years, there are great prospects for growing agricultural products.
Along with fresh tomatoes, Turkmen agrarians have established large-scale production of canned products and natural tomato juice that occupies a leading position in the domestic market. Canned products are also successfully exported to foreign countries.
The absence of genetically modified crops is another advantage of all Turkmen agricultural products. Cultivation of such plants is prohibited in the country, so all products are organic, and such products are especially valued in the world markets.
At the same time, Turkmen agrarians plan to increase the export potential of their country not only by tomato exports. According to experts, Turkmenistan can grow and effectively develop the production of about 45 types of exportable agricultural products.
Mung bean is one of such promising products. In 2020, the production of mung bean increased three times year-on-year. In Turkmenistan, the cultivation of mung bean is viewed not only as a business project but also as a social and eco-project.
The ecological value of mung bean is that the soil where it grows is enriched with ionized nitrogen and becomes suitable for other crops. In addition, mung bean stems are twice as nutritious for animals as, for example, clover. As a product, mung bean is very good for human health. The main value of mung bean is that it has vegetable protein, and it is no coincidence that vegetarians eat it instead of meat.
Private entrepreneurs have already saturated the domestic market of Turkmenistan with mung bean. They now plan to export this product in large quantities. The main consumers of mung bean are Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China and other states of South Asia.